Canadian Fashion Connection – Dominion Woollens and Worsteds 1928-1959

In 1870 Scottish-born Robert Forbes entered into a partnership with Jonathan Schofield in Hespeler, Ontario to operate J. Schofield & Co. – a mill to produce woollen flannels, plaids and tweeds as well as drugget carpeting. In 1874 the partners purchased the Randall, Farr & Co., a larger woollen mill on the edge of town, and in 1880 Forbes bought out Schofield and renamed his enterprise R. Forbes & Co. In 1888 the company was incorporated and Robert’s 28 year old son George took over as president and ran the company until 1928.

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Dominion Woollens and Worsteds, c. 1950s, everything to the right of the water tower no longer exists

The new owners renamed the company Dominion Woollens and Worsteds Co. Ltd. and despite the onset of the Depression, could boast their business was the largest woollens and worsteds mill in the British Empire. They employed a third of the entire population of the town of Hespeler, and during WWII also employed hundreds of ‘mill girls’ who came from across Canada to make Canada’s wool for military uniforms. In 1959 the company went into receivership and was purchased by Silknit. Despite production being diversified to include synthetics, the business slowly went into decline. Production ceased in 1984 and two fires over the years destroyed up to two thirds of the original structure, including the oldest part of the mill that dated back to the mid 19th century.

Added April 5, 2021:

The CBC just did a story about the Mill Girls who came from Newfoundland to Hespeler to work in the mill during WWII. As well, it was recently announced that the remaining third of the mill is about to be renovated into condos, and the developer who has taken this on is known for his sensitive use of heritage structures! 

9 thoughts on “Canadian Fashion Connection – Dominion Woollens and Worsteds 1928-1959

    • I think in this case it had gotten too big and wasn’t modernizing to keep up with the changing world, but I agree, it is a shame.

  1. Pingback: milling about Hespeler « music & musings

  2. What prompted me to look this up now I don’t know but in the mid 1960s I used to visit Dominion Woollens and Worsteds as their auditor. As a young articled clerk it was one of the first clients I was given. Loved the town and the people at the mill who always struck me as being smart. I bought some cloth from them and had suits made up. So sad to see they closed down in the 1980s

    • Even though they have been closed for decades, the town is still very proud of that business – it seems everyone who lived in Hespeler at the time either worked there at some point or knew someone who had. There is a new owner who is going to condo-ize the remaining building. The project is supposed to start next year…

  3. I wonder if “they”d give preference to a person whose Grandparents & other family members immigrated to Hespeler, Ontario in august 1907 to work in the Mill….???

    • I Highly Doubt you would receive any Preference . . * Condo Developers only Care about the Bottom Line – Making Money !!

  4. Dominion Woollen & Worsted was a big part of our mother’s history. We heard many stories about the war years and our mother’s experiences working as the night manager of 50 young women at the factory. She recently passed away at 104 and her many photo albums of the 1940’s are a meaningful reminder of a time in history when Canadian women answered the call to take the place of men who joined the Canadian war effort. I’m happy to hear that at least a part of this historic building is being repurposed rather than destroyed.

    • I think everyone in Hespeler is really looking forward to seeing Dominion Woollen and Worsted revived. Please keep in mind that the Cambridge archives and Hespeler Heritage Centre would probably want to have copies of some of the photos in your mother’s photo albums for posterity!

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